The Future of Solar Energy: More Efficient and Better Looking

ANU+researchers%2C+Dr+Duong+and+Professor+Catchpole.+Photo+by+Stuart+Hay%2C+ANU

ANU researchers, Dr Duong and Professor Catchpole. Photo by Stuart Hay, ANU

Grace Flynn, Reporter

Across Australia, over 2.2 million homes now have solar panels.

As the number of home installations and solar farms continues to increase, solar energy is showing no signs of stopping.

Director of the Electron Science Research Institute at Edith Cowan University, Professor Kamal Alameh, says the future of solar energy will not only be more efficient, but also more aesthetically pleasing, through the development of building-integrated photovoltaics.

“If you can build a house where the building materials, like the tiles, the glass, everything is generating power, this is called building-integrated photovoltaics,” Professor Alameh explains.

Already, the photovoltaic industry has incorporated solar energy cells into ceramic roof tiles, window glazing, and high-rise building facades.

This allows businesses and homeowners to maximise solar energy absorption by using all of the building’s surface area, and not just the roof space.

Professor Alameh believes that with continued research we could even see coloured or patterned panels on our homes in the near future – a panel that could appear as a brick face wall for example.

The researchers behind these solar energy innovations include Dr The Duong and his research team from Australian National University.  They recently broke the record for the conversion of sunlight to energy.

After five years, the team at the ANU has developed highly efficient ‘tandem solar cells’ that have an eight percent higher efficiency than a typical solar panel cell, which currently sits at around 20%.

However, to achieve greater commercial competitiveness in this multi-billion-dollar market, ANU’s researchers must hit 30% efficiency.

“We expect to reach the 30% milestone in two to three years,” Dr Duong says.

“Several companies are now trying to commercialise the technology and the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics predicts that tandem solar cells will appear in mass production in 2023.”